This Bank Holiday, I am celebrating the publication for Kindle of four new (well, sort of new) stories—the four books of The Aikenhead Honours series. In revised editions. With four brand new covers that I love. See for yourself, in the image below:
The original Harlequin covers focused purely on the lovers. Fair enough, but I wanted my new covers to show how far afield my heroes had to travel to find their brides. Book 1 shows the Hermitage in St Petersburg, Book 2 shows Schönbrunn palace outside Vienna, Book 3 shows Notre Dame, in Paris, Book 4 shows the old city in Lyons. My heroes went to all those places on business, of course—spying business.
Editing the Aikenhead Honours Series
You may remember that I blogged about the problems of republishing vintage titles, after Elizabeth Hawksley wrote of her difficulties with digital files. I had the complete digital files safely tucked away. But, oh dear… Were they fit to be republished?
Dealing with the habit words was easy enough, though time-consuming—there were loads of them, I am ashamed to admit. I’ve become more self-critical over the years.
But the real problem with the Aikenhead Honours series related to how I wrote it. Originally, it was a series of three books, one each for Dominic, Duke of Calder, and his brothers, Lord Leo and Lord Jack. Then, Harlequin asked me to write a short ebook novella about the fourth member of the Aikenhead spying brotherhood, Ben, Baron Dexter. I made that novella work at the time, though I was never satisfied with it because Ben’s love story deserved to be more than just a sexy romp.
A few years ago, I rewrote and republished Ben’s story as a proper novel. I was much happier with the long version than with the original. But…
Once I had the rights to all four stories, I wanted to republish them as a coherent series. I read them, one after the other, for the first time in years. And I discovered the four didn’t work as a series. ARGH!
Book 3 (His Forbidden Liaison) had originally been written as the final book of the series. It had an epilogue to answer the reader’s outstanding questions from all three books so that the HEA was clear for all four of my heroes, including Ben.
Except that the epilogue in Book 3 included spoilers for what was then written as Book 4 (His Silken Seduction). And there was a loose end from Book 2 (His Reluctant Mistress) that I hadn’t found a way of tying up in Book 3’s original epilogue.
I must have written at least 4 new versions of the epilogue to Book 3. None of them worked. Either they still had spoilers in them, or they didn’t feel like part of Jack and Marguerite’s love story. After much thrashing around, and stern words from Sophie, my crit partner, I finally settled on adding a couple of chapters to the original Book 3, and a new section in Book 4. I think (fingers crossed) that Book 3 is now spoiler free. And that Book 4 is a more satisfying read.
But no, I’m not going to say what it was. I think I’ve made quite enough confessions in this blog already 😉
A Little Extra Something for Libertà Readers
To give you a flavour of the members of the Aikenhead spying brotherhood, I’m including here a short story I wrote about Jack, the third of my Aikenhead heroes. This story is set between books 3 and 4, in the run-up to Waterloo. Napoleon is back on the French throne and the Allies have tasked the Duke of Wellington with “saving the world”. So all of Europe is uncertain.
And Jack still has work to do as a spy.
London, May, 1815
What man in his right mind would be a spy?
It was long after midnight. It should have been pitch black, for there was no moon. But fleeting patches of light from flambeaux or link-boys drew the eye, throwing the shadows into even deeper relief. The last carriage clattered across the cobbles, its flickering lamps soon swallowed up by the gloom. From the lurking darkness, low voices murmured, occasionally broken by a husky laugh and, once, a woman’s scream, quickly stifled.
The very walls were menacing. Covent Garden at this hour was no place for a lone man to linger.
Jack felt a wry smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Would his contact arrive at all? He had no way of knowing. He leaned back against the cold stone and drove his hands deep into his pockets, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness. Such was the lot of a spy. Simply to wait.
That scream again.
Jack recognised real fear in the woman’s voice this time. Whoever she was, he could not ignore her plight. He sprinted lightly towards the sound, his fists clenched, all his senses alert.
In a narrow alley of overhanging buildings, a man held a woman pinned up against the wall, his hands around her neck. Her skirts had been pushed up above her waist. She was struggling valiantly, trying to knee him in the groin, but he was choking the life out of her. In a moment, she would be unconscious.
Jack grabbed the man by the shoulder and spun him round. The ruffian’s filthy face registered shock, followed by exploding fury, just as Jack felled him with a straight right to the chin. The man hit the stone wall and slithered down into an untidy heap on the ground.
Rubbing his knuckles, Jack rapidly assessed his options. The man should be taken in charge, but Jack dare not quit his post. A lone woman could not do it, especially not a woman of this class. The blackguard would have to remain where he lay, with only a damaged jaw as punishment for his crime.
Beside him, the woman was automatically trying to smooth down her skirts. Only when that was done to her satisfaction did she straighten and raise her hands to her injured neck.
He knew her! That beautiful stretching body was unmistakable.
“Why, it’s Hetty, isn’t it? Good evening, ma’am.” Jack had no hat to doff, but he bowed to the lightskirt as if to a countess. Hetty was no common harlot. Only gentlemen frequented the house where she worked.
She had been smiling her thanks, but now her eyes widened in recognition and she laughed, though the sound was hoarse in her bruised throat. “Get along with you, Lord Jack.” She let her gaze drift over his immaculately tailored evening clothes, his pristine white shirt and the silk-lined cloak hanging carelessly from his shoulders. The large ruby pin nestling in the folds of his cravat made her eyes goggle. “Taking a bit of a risk wearing that here, ain’t yer?”
“Aren’t you taking a risk by walking here alone?” he flashed back. At least he was armed; she was defenceless.
Hetty shrugged in response, seeming to accept that he was right.
Jack said nothing. He knew better than to probe further, for she would simply tell him—with a chuckle—to mind his business. He had rescued her from her folly. She was too sensible to repeat it.
Hetty glanced down at her assailant. “I hope you broke his jaw,” she said, with venom, letting Jack take her elbow and usher her out of the lane. “Where you been these last months?” She narrowed her eyes assessingly, now that his face was no longer in shadow. “You look different. Still a handsome devil, but different. Older.” She dropped him a curtsey. She had never done that before.
“Dare I hope that you think I look wiser, too, Hetty?”
“What, you? The maddest gambler and scapegrace in London? It’d take more than a couple of years in your dish to change your wild ways.” She let her gaze soften. “Want to come back for a nightcap?” Her voice had sunk to a seductive murmur.
He shook his head. “Prior engagement, I fear.”
“Another night then?” Hetty smiled her most inviting smile.
Jack realised he should have expected this. He had always tipped well. All the muslin company knew that.
He hesitated, unwilling to give her a straight answer. There were some things—private, deeply-cherished things—that a man did not share. “My evenings are …er… devoted to other pursuits, these days. Will you get home safe? I’m afraid I am not free to escort you.”
Hetty grinned. “Lord love yer, I’m a working girl. Don’t you worry none about me. I’ll hurry. And I promise I’ll keep away from the shadows.”
Relieved, Jack put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her lightly on the cheek. Then, remembering his duty, he bowed to her once more and turned away, strolling lazily across the square to resume his vigil. Long ago, he had concluded that a spy’s lot consisted of long periods of boredom, punctuated by rare bursts of frenzied action. He found himself grinning into the challenging gloom. He had probably had his full quota of excitement for tonight.
Hetty stared after his retreating back. Not the same man at all, she decided. No longer a playboy. And no longer a boy, either. Some woman—some very lucky woman—had caught Lord Jack Aikenhead and shown him the value of life and love, values that only a grown man could appreciate. Who was she? And how on earth had she worked such a miracle?
Hetty shook her head. Chances were that she would never know.
But if you would like to learn about the woman who tamed London’s most outrageous playboy, you can read their adventures in His Forbidden Liaison.
The whole series is now available to download from your local Amazon.
Buy Links Below:
A Giveaway to Celebrate the new editions of
The Aikenhead Honours Series
GIVEAWAY NOW CLOSED!
Winner is Helena Fairfax
Later this week, I will pick one blog comment at random. The lucky winner will receive free copies of ALL FOUR Kindle ebooks in The Aikenhead Honours series: His Cavalry Lady, His Reluctant Mistress, His Forbidden Liaison, His Silken Seduction. Leave a comment to enter. You never know—you might win.